15 Dec, 2008
Danny West – Success Stories
Danny West – Personal Performance & Leadership Coach.
‘Passionate about empowerment, Danny West works in partnership with people who are living with HIV, disabled people & people with long term health conditions to enable them to achieve personal and professional success’
Danny West is principal consultant of RYL Training, Coaching & Leadership Consultancy which provides a range of services to the public, voluntary and corporate sectors; Danny works with a small team of trainers, coaches and consultants who are all living with either a disability or long term health condition. RYL (Realising Your Leadership) Training Consultancy works in partnership with disabled people, people living with HIV and people with long term health conditions to enable them to reframe their limiting self perceptions, achieve their fullest potential and lead empowered lives.
What is your background?
I have a background in social work, training and management and in October of 1985 whilst at the beginnings of a bright new career I was one of the very first people in the UK to be diagnosed HIV positive and was given a life expectancy of 18 months to live.
I realised very quickly that I needed to manage my stress levels and my job was the first thing that I decided to change and so I retired initially on medical grounds and set about managing my chronic health condition and responding to the many barriers and challenges of HIV.
I hope that in writing this article that we might be reminded of the profound experience of people who are living with a virus that has decimated populations and galvanised communities to take leadership in a manner of integrity for which we and humanity can be truly proud.
I have lived though this epidemic and have been privileged to know and work with thousands of people who are living with the HIV virus and now hundreds of disabled people who demonstrate a great passion for life and an inspired level of resourcefulness, determination, courage and integrity.
It is because that I am still here today that I have the opportunity to share my skills, lead by example and work in partnership with people who are living with HIV, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.
In the autumn of 2006 after fourteen years of ill health and life on ‘Incapacity Benefit’ I returned to work and set up my own consultancy. Being self employed on a sole trader basis enables me to work at my own pace, rest when necessary and manage my health condition, it also enables me to work without fear of prejudice of being scrutinised by a potential employer or the stigmatised attitudes of fellow employees.
One of the first organisations that I came into contact with was the former ‘United Kingdom Coalition of People Living with HIV’ (UKC) who provided me with my very own coach. Over the coming months this experience empowered me and enabled me to develop my business idea and gain the necessary additional information and skills that I would need in order to establish a successful business. Though I knew something of coaching at this time the actual experience of being coached got me hooked and I continue to engage my own coach today as I continue to challenge the barriers of HIV and disability related stigma and grow my business.
‘I am passionately committed to working in partnership with people who are living with HIV, disabled people and people with long term health conditions to ensure that the human rights and equality of my clients becomes an actualised reality in their everyday lives’
How did it all start?
It all started back when I was 14 years of age, having moved to a new council estate with my family I introduced myself to the manager of a new residential home for people with learning disabilities and embarked upon a new career as a volunteer working in my free time to enable the residents of the care home to become independent. Just before my 16th birthday I left home and began a residential social work course in London whilst working in bars and doing cleaning jobs to pay my way and meet the costs of my shared bed-sit accommodation.
From an early age I was aware of injustice which stems from my own early experiences of stigma and discrimination as a gay man which directly resulted in my career in social care, training, education and now coaching.
What is your vision?
My vision is of a society in which there is equality, diversity, social inclusion, empowerment and leadership, a vision of a society in which people living with HIV, disabled people and people with long term health conditions are able to live without barriers of stigma, prejudice and discrimination
‘I am committed to working tirelessly towards continuing to initiate, influence and establish equality justice locally, nationally and internationally’.
What obstacles have you encountered?
‘This year signifies 25 years of the AIDS epidemic, today 33.2 million people are living with HIV worldwide and 25 million people have died of AIDS’
There are a multitude of barriers associated with living with HIV. HIV is only a virus, but unlike other viruses or health conditions HIV is unique because it raises many issues which are taboo in society and includes sex, sexuality, addiction and death and dying and are all issues that we do not discuss with comfort or ease or address in our everyday lives. HIV requires society to address these issues with intelligence, compassion and integrity.
My own experiences include that of being rejected by my family, the loss of employment, exclusion from insurance and mortgage services, homelessness and the profound isolation that is a result of the stigma attached to HIV.
In 1985 at the time of my diagnosis I lived in a landscape and culture of suffering, death and dying and the loss of my generation.
At the time of my diagnosis, the gay community both in the US and the UK were galvanised and united by grief and fear as they set about establishing a positive example of organised community support, care and compassion whilst government campaigns served only to increase stigmatisation of people living with HIV. The most recent UK government campaign took place some twenty years ago and served only to ignite and increase fear, discrimination and stigma.
The greatest barrier experienced by people living with HIV throughout the world is stigma; stigma that has grown out of our many human fears and the perceptions held by society that we are helpless victims of a virus that is the coarse of a health condition that cannot be managed from which we will inevitably die.
When did you become interested in coaching?
‘Coaching is a proactive relationship that builds on the abilities of the people with whom I work and liberates disabled people and people with long term health conditions from a place of helplessness and limiting self beliefs, barriers and obstacles to a place of empowerment, success, achievement and leadership.
In 2005 I returned to London from a life in rural Norfolk and the break down of my primary relationship, for me this was a time of starting over, I moved back into my apartment, began to establish social networks and decided that I wanted to return to my previous career as a free lance trainer. I soon realised that the focus of the HIV community had changed beyond recognition and had changed from one where the focus was on death and dying, helplessness and fear to one of optimism and living, people with HIV now have a future.
Advances in medicine and HIV treatments now mean that people who are successfully treated on combination therapies can now expect to live a near to normal life expectancy, I myself have now be treated successfully on treatment for the past eight years. My interest in empowering people and my consciousness of the lack of positive role models of people who are living with the virus lead to my initial interest in coaching. As I read a number of the key coaching manuals and investigated the hundreds of coaching internet sites I began to realise that I had been actively using coaching tools as part of my professional skill sets throughout all of my working life, coaching for me is to some extent intuitive.
How did you become a coach?
I have always had a personal and professional commitment to the empowerment and leadership potential of disabled people and people who are living with long term health conditions and it was a result of my own coaching that I realised that coaching is the ideal tool to support people with HIV and disabled people to achieve their personal and professional goals and targets.
In early 2007 I made a number of enquires and approached ‘The Coaching Academy’ and requested a free place on the personal performance coaching diploma which would enable me to work with people living with HIV and disabled people as a professional coach. I was initially turned down but after some further correspondence I was delighted that ‘The Coaching Academy’ agreed to provide me with a scholarship. I started my coach training in April 2007 and set myself a two-year goal for completing my diploma. During the following eighteen months I worked tirelessly, got some quality coaching from my own coach Andy Hilton who is also Coaching Academy trained and practiced my coaching skills; in June 2008 I qualified at distinction level some 10 months ahead of schedule.
A Career in Coaching
There are many stigma and societal associated barriers faced by people who are living with HIV, disabled people and people with long term health conditions, coaching however enables me to work in an environment in which I have complete autonomy over my own working life. As I continue working as a coach I am really beginning to recognise the many benefits of my chosen career path, it is incredibly rewarding especially when you experience your clients develop, grow and achieve their goals and I am always inspired by the courage and many successes of the people with whom I have work.
On a more practical level I have found that there are a number of primary benefits to my health condition as I am able to work from home and provide coaching either by telephone or email and I am able to determine the exact amount of work that I do on a weekly basis though advanced scheduling with my clients.
I would advise anyone seeking coaching training to research the many available forms of training and opt for credible form of training which you can manage yourself under the guidance of an appointed tutor or mentor. Coaching training with the academy is ideal for anyone who is considering a coaching career especially if you are disabled because the training is specifically designed in such a way that it enables coaching students to direct and control their own learning pace and you are well supported throughout the training process.
‘I will promote the birth right of our clients to enable complete equality of opportunity and will ensure that our clients are supported and championed to contribute fully and equally to the communities and societies in which they live’
What are your current Projects?
Just before I embarked upon my coaching training with the Academy I attended a Disabilities Right Commission Leadership Conference, this was to be the launch event for a series of national leadership programmes aimed at disabled people and people with long term health conditions a key element of which was to be coaching. It was at this event that I got to meet a number of extremely empowered disabled people who demonstrate leadership within their work and everyday lives, these are people are passionately committed to equality and are inspired positive role models for us all.
I quickly discovered that I was alone and the only person in attendance who was living with HIV, as I become more involved with the disability community I realised that this was to be the case across the entire community; people with HIV were not participating in the leadership or disability arenas.
The 2005 Disabilities Discrimination Act now provides people living with HIV with legislation that protects some of their human rights, legislation that specifically relates to their rights to employment and access to public services. I have always been struck by the lack of positive role models of people living with HIV in society, we have no role models in society and those that we have had in the past have disappeared or died under a cloud of tabloid press hysteria.
It was in these circumstances that I formed my vision and leadership goals, it wasn’t like experiencing a bolt of lightening but it was like suddenly experiencing everything coming together, my past and present experiences, my education and training and my commitments all finally had some tangible meaning and purpose.
As a result of my participation in the leadership conference I was actively encouraged by the former director of the ‘DRC’ to make an application of tender to be a coach for the future programmes, my very first tender and application was successful and I have worked with both the DRC and now RADAR in all of their programmes over the past two years.
When the Disability Rights Commission was decommissioned in 2007, RADAR a national disability campaigning organisation took on the work of the DRC and their associated leadership role and is now commissioned to continue developing and delivering the national leadership programme.
My primary goals for 2009 are based in my continuing working partnerships with organisations such as RADAR, SCOPE, AIDS West and Open Heart House in Ireland as a coach, positive role model and consultant. I am also passionately committed to continuing my work with the numerous people whom I coach to ensure that leadership remains at the very hearts of the people with whom I work.
‘As HIV continues to decimate and destroy communities and societies people living with HIV have all been stigmatised and have been living in the face of discrimination and prejudice for far too long, I for one am no longer prepared to compromise or negotiate my birth rights to life, freedom and equality. We cannot and should not continue to live in the face of the oppressive stigma, discrimination and prejudice that surrounds HIV and disability’
My Biggest Challenge?
The two greatest personal challenges that I have experienced were firstly being given a life expectancy of eighteen months at the age of 24 and then being told at the age of 38 that my positive response to combination HIV treatment would mean that I could realistically hope to live a near ‘normal’ life expectancy.
At the age of 24 I believed I was immortal, I had my whole career and life ahead of me, I had plans, ambitions and expectations but my diagnosis of HIV was a virtual death sentence. Doctors informed me that there was no hope or treatment and I was confronted with a future in which I would live my days in the face of the overwhelming fear and stigma associated with AIDS.
At the age of 38 having survived 14 years of living with the virus and having out lived two partners and the majority of my friends I was informed that I could expect to live into older age, this came as a great shock as I had not anticipated or prepared for a future let alone middle or old age. I remember in the early years of my diagnosis that I could not comprehend the possibility that I would die early, I had always had a sense that I was here to make some significant difference and I knew that my life had some greater meaning. Now at the age of 47 I realise that this is were my journey was meant to lead me, I love my work, I am inspired by the people I meet and I realise now that dying from HIV for me at an early age was never an option.
My life has made up of many challenges, I have become the person that I am because I was confronted with my own mortality at an early age and because of and in spite of the fact that I am living with HIV.
My Biggest Success?
I have said many times that I believe that I have had an amazing life, I have had more, seen more, experienced more and loved more than most people only ever imagine. I believe that we always have choice and I have chosen to live a life that has had meaning. I have taken many risks and I have some regrets. Most people consider my biggest success to be that I am one of the longest surviving people who are living with HIV in the world today. I consider my greatest success to be that of continuing to have a life that has been worth living. I am fortunate enough to work with extraordinary people who are living extraordinary lives. I have worked with people form a range of backgrounds, people who are living in the face of immense stigma, discrimination and adversity. I get to work with people who are magistrates, barristers, volunteers, employees, company directors and many leading figures in the disability and HIV communities and each and every one of them has inspired me to continue with my work and establish positive role models and continue my leadership journey. I believe that my life and my work in the world is testimony to my success.
Most important thing that I have learnt?
On a personal level I have come to realise that life is not a dress rehearsal, as far as anyone knows this is my only shot at life and as a consequences I have taken some risks and made some mistakes from which I have hopefully learned some of life lessons. I do have regrets and again hope I have learned lessons from them, in my view it is not possible to go through life without having regret, regrets are in a sense an opportunity to redefine goals and a true opportunity to live a life which is accomplished and fulfilled.
As a coach I have come to understand that no matter who I coach, whether I find myself coaching a CEO of a large corporation or company, a magistrate, a volunteer from a local charity, or a service user from one of the many organisations in which I work, confidence or to be precise a lack of confidence is the common issues faced people. We live in a highly competitive society, a society in which we do not actively encourage confidence, assertiveness and empowerment. Coaching provides people with the personal and professional space to define and build upon their abilities in a non-judgmental self-affirming environment that contradicts our daily experiences of not being encouraged to value or acknowledge our abilities, qualities and strengths.
Finally, I have also come to realise that all human beings innately want to achieve success whether this be as a mother, father or friend, in sport, in employment or in the board room, the one thing that unites us all is the need to be successful at the things that define us a individuals and in the things that we want to do at the very best of our ability. Coaching is all about potential and offers a fantastic range of opportunities that can be utilised to enable people to achieve their personal and professional successes, coaching can help people define who they are and what it is that they want to do through a journey of gradual achievement and success.
What are you currently working on?
‘There are currently 10 million people living with a disability in the UK’
My goals for 2009 and beyond?
My primary goal for 2009 is related to leadership, I am absolutely committed to developing leadership and to significantly raising the profiles and positive role models of people living with HIV, disabled people and people with long term health conditions.
It is my view the responsibility of professionals such as coaches to invest in and encourage the abilities, skills and leadership contributions of people who are living with ill health, disabilities and HIV. By taking my leadership I believe that I demonstrate a level of commitment and empowerment that inspires and encourages other people who are facing the many challenges of HIV and disability.
I believe that society has the potential to benefit from HIV and disability because it provides each and everyone of us with an opportunity to become more accepting and is an opportunity to develop a more compassionate and humane response to this continuing global epidemic and to the complex range of impairments with which many people live their lives.
The continuing theme of leadership and this year’s theme for International AIDS Day of ‘Respect & Protect’ provide the coaching community with the opportunity to commit now to our shared responsibility of transforming negative stigmatised attitudes and encouraging action that will prevent the continuing spread of HIV and discrimination along with providing coaching relationships that promote and enable empowerment and leadership.
In 2009 I am also particularly committed to developing a range of coaching, awareness training and leadership developmental services for the business and corporate sectors. All employees in the business and corporate sectors employ disabled people and people with long term health conditions. All businesses support and financially sustain a proportion of employees who are on long-term sick leave.
However many businesses do not have specific leadership developmental programmes in place for disabled employees or employees living with a long term health conditions and many businesses do not have systems in place to enable the long term sick back into work or retirement.
My goal is focused on two groups of people, those who are in employment and are committed to developing their leadership skill sets and those who are on long term sick leave and want to either return to work or retire on ill health grounds. In addition to this goal I have a very clear vision of an employment culture in which disabled people and people with long-term health conditions do not experience discrimination or limiting expectations in the workplace. With this vision in mind I want to develop a range of awareness training programmes for the workplace as I am acutely aware of the need to increase awareness and educate the business and corporate worlds in relation to the many issues relating to disability, long term ill health and HIV which will be key to the realisation of my vision.
‘As HIV continues to decimate and destroy communities and societies throughout the world people living with HIV continue to be stigmatised and have been living in the face of discrimination and prejudice for far too long, I for one am no longer prepared to compromise or negotiate my birth right to life, freedom and equality’
Contact and additional information details:
Danny West – Principal Consultant